James Murdoch, who currently serves as deputy COO at News Corp, received 81% votes in favour and 19% votes against. But a further 6% abstained, provisional reports suggest. That means he was re-elected by two thirds of BSkyB shareholders, but didn’t receive support from around a third of non-News Corp investors.
A number of investors, including Standard Life Investments, were concerned the phone hacking scandal engulfing News Corp, BSkyB's controlling shareholder, could damage the company’s reputation and called for an independent chairman. Pensions & Investment Research Consultants (Pirc), the investor activist group which advised shareholders earlier this month to vote against James Murdoch’s reappointment, concluded that his ‘involvement in the News Corp phone-hacking inquiry raises concerns over whether he is fit to fulfil the role of chairman at the company.’
James Murdoch has been hauled twice before parliament in recent months to answer questions about the extent he was aware of the phone hacking practices that went on at the now-defunct News of the World. At the latest hearing early this month, Labour MP Tom Watson even went as far as comparing Murdoch junior to a ‘mafia boss’.
BSkyB investors are worried this negative publicity will affect the company’s public image. News Corp already had to pull its £7.7bn bid to take over the rest of BSkyB it doesn’t own, after the phone hacking revelations at the NoTW broke in July.
Nevertheless, as the vote shows, the majority of shareholders are standing by him. He also has the full support of the board: Nick Ferguson, BSkyB’s deputy chairman who took control of the AGM, wrote in a letter last month that Murdoch had done a ‘first class job’ as chairman.
Nearly two thirds of independent investors voted against Murdoch’s re-election last month, but he survived. It was always unlikely he would be ousted today, as nearly all independent investors would have needed to vote against him. Still, with a third of BSkyB shareholders not supporting him, it’s hardly a landslide victory.